The PLAN!!!

So here we are, 180 countries down and just 20 to go – it’s mad to think that I only left Shanghai just over two weeks ago, and in that time I’ve managed to visit Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – and with any luck I’ll be in Brunei (181) before close of play tomorrow and the Philippines (182) by the end of this week (typhoons permitting).  But if you think I’m “nearly there”, think again.  Every single remaining state is an island nation and none of them have anything approaching an international ferry service.  This could take a looooooooong time.

A loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.

Here’s a draft of a sketch of a inkling of The Plan from here to the end of The Odyssey ExpeditionBut as always, everything is open to change.

183: East Timor

There is a Pelni (Indonesia’s national ferry service) ship that goes from Denpaser in Bali to Kupang in (West) Timur.  I’ll be crossing the border, then sitting in Dili for a few days while I apply for (yet) another Indonesian visa.

184: Palau

After returning to Kupang, I will take a Pelni ship to West Papua.  From there I hope to persuade a swashbuckling yachtie to take me to the South-West Islands of Palau: only a few hundred kilometres north (as opposed to the capital Koror which is a thousand kilometres away).  I’ll then be coming straight back to West Papua.

185. Papua New Guinea

Just a case of crossing the border from West Papua.

186. Solomon Islands

If I island-hop through PNG and make it to Bougainville, I should be able to take a canoe over the short hop to the Shortland Islands and tick the Solomons off the list.  From there I should be able to island-hop via Gizo to Guadalcanal, the main island.

And here’s when it becomes REALLY tricky…

Have a gander at this map of the Pacific Island states I knocked out on the back of a napkin…

All This And MORE!!

Take a note of the scale!!! From the Marshall Islands down to Fiji I’m going to have a cover a distance approximately the same as from Darwin to Melbourne via Sydney.  This is no Caribbean Island hop, these are gargantuan chucks of bitchin’ ocean I have to cover.

The only options open to me are hitching a ride on cargo ships and cruise ships.  Cyclone season starts at the end of this month (and continues to May) so yachts are right out.  Even if someone was mad enough to take me, it would just be too dangerous – I mean, have you SEEN A Perfect Storm?  Ygads!

So here’s the sketch of how I’m going to do this…

187. Nauru

The isolated (and isolationalist) island of Nauru is really hitting hard times these days.  The rich phosphate deposits that secured the island’s finances are now completely depleted (as of this year), leaving an impoverished island in the middle of nowhere that is going to be a real bitch to get to – it’s the only Pacific Island where you need a visa and an invitation to ruck up.  Seriously guys?  Seriously?

My hope is that I can hop a supply/cargo ship from The Solomons north to The Marshall Islands, one that stops at Nauru along the way.  But these things may only come once every few months.

188. Micronesia

Micronesia (like jungle) is massive, stretching across a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean.  The bit I’m interested in is an island called Kosrae in the far east of the nation, which I could use as a stepping stone to…

189. The Marshall Islands

I lie awake at night fretting about ever reaching The Marshall Islands.  So far from just about anywhere they cajole and torment me in my dreams.  But if this semi-mythical cargo ship can take me there, I’d be one happy Odyssey bunny.

190. Kiribati

If a cargo ship has got me this far, maybe it can take me a little further: to the western half of Kiribati.  From there at least I know I can take a Kiribati Shipping Services ship (which comes once every couple of months) down to…

191. Tuvalu

Here I’ll have to make the decision whether to stay on the Kiribati Shipping Services ship to Fiji or swing a left to:

192. Samoa

Again, this place is a little off the beaten track, but it’s position between the US Samoan islands and Fiji means that if I’m lucky, I might be able to find something that can float me to:

193. Tonga

If I get here, the hump should be over: I’ll be on the cruise ship circuit.  Hopefully in return for entertaining the troops with tales of my adventures (and possibly the odd song and dance routine), I’ll be allowed to hitch a ride on a cruise to:

194. Fiji

Fiji seems to have the best international transport links with the region, and I may regret not coming here first, but if all works out, I should be able to stay on the same cruise ship through the Fijian islands and on to:

195. Vanuatu

And then onto:

196. New Zealand

My original final destination, things have changed a little since I failed to reach Sri Lanka, Maldives and The Seychelles.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find something to ship me to:

197. Australia

Arriving in Sydney (because I owe Alex Zelenjak a pint in The Three Monkeys), I’ll be headed down to Melbourne and kidnapping my long-suffering girlfriend Mandy for the trip across the Nullabor all the way to Perth.  If I can find a cruise that is going to Europe or South Africa, there’s a good chance it will stop at: 198. Sri Lanka, 199. Maldives and 200. The Seychelles.

Then I’m done, right?  Er, right… as long as no new nations are created between now and the end of this.  Like, say, South Sudan

Eek!

CAN YOU HELP?

If you have any contacts in the South Pacific who are involved in shipping or cruises, please pass them on via the CONTACTS page.  In return for helping me finish The Odyssey in one piece I’m willing to give plenty of publicity to any company or individual that would like to get involved.

Thanks!!

AUSSIE SKIPPER REQ’D: FOR HIGH ADVENTURE

THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION

Hi, my name is Graham Hughes. I’m a British adventurer, TV presenter and a Guinness World Record holder.  You can read more about me on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hughes

I’m currently in the midst of a rather epic challenge – one that I hope you might be interested in joining me in: I’m trying to step foot in every country in the world, and attempting to do so without flying.  I’m doing this to raise funds and awareness for the international charity WaterAid.

I work with Lonely PlanetNational Geographic and BBC Worldwide. The first series of my self-filmed TV show, Graham’s World, is currently showing on the Nat Geo Adventure channel (Foxtel) and I was the star guest on Channel Nine’s Today Show last Saturday.  You can watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaR_RW7Zu4

Over the last two years, I’ve managed to visit an incredible 184 countries around the world, from Uruguay to Iceland, South Africa to Turkmenistan; on my own, on a shoestring and without flying.  With only 17 more countries to visit, I’m now setting my sights on the Pacific Ocean nations of Oceania.

BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS

I’m looking for somebody – it could be you, a friend, a colleague or your mum – who owns their own sailing ship and is looking for an epic adventure on the high seas.  While I’m happy to pay for food, drink and fuel, but this would not be a commercial enterprise – I’m seeking somebody who wants to do this for fun, a bit of fame, to raise money for the charity WaterAid… and claim their very own Guinness World Record: THE FASTEST SEA JOURNEY TO EVERY COUNTRY IN OCEANIA.

From Australia, one amazing journey will take us to Papua New Guinea, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand… and back to Australia.

FORTUNE AND GLORY

Of course, this would be no small undertaking.  We are talking here of a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles.  It won’t be easy, but then Guinness World Records never are!

I travel solo, I don’t have a film crew or any bulky equipment.  I have extensive sailing experience on the open sea, having been first mate on international voyages in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.  I’m aware that for many boat owners, their vessel is their home and I’m more than happy to meet any prospective skippers in person before they reach a decision.

I’m not looking for anything fancy, fast, luxurious or even particularly comfortable, the only requirements I’ve got are that the ship be sea-worthy, insured and fitted with an international distress beacon in case of emergency.

I’m also open to the possibility of doing a smaller leg of the journey, sayAustraliato PNG to Palau and back. (Although they’d be no world record for you in that!)

I’m ready to leave as soon as possible from anywhere in Australia.  Would YOU be interested in stepping up to the mantle?  Prove to your family and friends that your boat is more than an expensive toy: show them that it’s an expression of freedom and adventure, feel the call of the ocean, leave all you troubles behind and join me on the voyage of a lifetime… fortune and glory await!

I anxiously await your call.

Graham Hughes
Sydney, Australia
10 Aug 2011

Days M90-M91: The Fijian Chief

26.12.11-27.12.11:

Boxing Day was a long, lazy day, but one in which I learnt an important life lesson: if you’re in a small swimming pool and you get everybody in it to run in a circle, you can create a whirlpool. True story.

My ticket out of here, the Southern Lily 2, doesn’t leave until after New Year, so I’ve got a week or so to spend mooching about, causing trouble and generally being a crimson-headed nuisance.

The day after Boxing Day, a new chief would be installed as head of Sandy’s mum’s clan. I was invited along to the ceremony which would be held in the small village of Buca Levu, a couple of hours drive out of Suva on the eastern side of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. I’d be a fool to turn an opportunity like this down, and as I keep telling the taxi drivers of the world, my mama ain’t never raised no fool.

So on Boxing Day night I stayed over at Sandy’s mum’s house in Delainavsei on the outskirts of Suva, ready to head out to the village at early o’clock in the morning. As there was so much stuff to take to the village (gift giving is incredibly important in Fijian culture) we wound up missing the bus, but Sandy’s brother, Kee, gave us a lift in his car.

The village was lovely – just off the main road and all built with local materials. Before I entered the house where I would be staying, I had been fully briefed by Sandy with regards protocol when in a Fijian village. First up, if everybody else is sitting, you must not stand. You must not walk in front of anybody, only behind them. When you walk behind somebody you must say “chillo” which is the Fijian for “excuse me”. The patriarch of the household is called “Tata Levu”, meaning “Big Father”. The matriarch is called “Nana Levu”.

When you enter a Fijian home it is traditional to give a small gift to Tata Levu, usually powered Kava. I had bought a couple of packs the day before at Sandy’s behest. As a guest, you must enter the house through the back door, never the front door. You must take your shoes off before entering and it’s respectful (but not essential) to wear a ‘sulu’ – the cotton sarong that you often see Fijian men wearing. Sandy had lent me a sulu of her brother’s.

When sitting on the floor to eat, your place at the table is important, so don’t just sit anywhere – wait until somebody shows you where to sit. And finally, most importantly, don’t touch anybody on the head: it is the height of bad manners. Missionaries were eaten for touching the chief’s head. Oh, and I wasn’t allowed to wear my hat.

After presenting my gift of kava to Tata Levu, we sat down to eat breakfast together. After that, Kee set off back to Suva and Sandy’s mum and I squelched our way across the muddy village (it’s the rainy season alright!) to an open sided structure with wooden pillars and a tin roof in the middle of the village green. The ceremony of chiefly matters was soon to begin.

As the final preparations were made I sat and chatted with Aisea Naigulevu, the softly spoken white-haired man who was about to become this clan’s first chief. Each village is made up of several clans – extended families – and to have a voice in the village council (and to stand a chance of becoming village chief yourself one day) your clan needs a chief. To be made chief is a great honour and a position that Aisea (pronounced Isaiah) will keep until the day he dies: there might not be an investiture of a new chief for another 20 years.

While Aisea went off to get ready for the ceremony, Sandy’s mum gave me a tour of the food preparations for the feast that would follow. Like at Christmas, cooking was done in a lovo – in this case, many lovos. Many really BIG lovos. At least two cows, five pigs and god knows how many chickens were being cooked. The taro was being delivered in wheelbarrows. Fish, lamb, vegetables of all shapes and sizes: everything was being put together by a team of villagers that put the caterers that did the royal wedding to shame.

Then it was back to the shelter on the green for the ceremony. Aisea sat at the front facing us all and some 200 villagers filed in: some of whom had come from Nadi on the other side of the island, some had even flown back from New Zealand and Australia. We all sat on the floor and when everyone was settled, the proceedings began.

First of all we had a church service, Fijians incorporate their new religion with the old pre-Christian rites. The minister spoke in Fijian so I kinda got a flavour of what it must have been like being a Catholic in the days before they started doing the mass in English.

After some very nicely sung hymns, the minister stood next to Aisea and spoke (I assume) about the new chiefs rights and responsibilities. He then anointed Aisea’s head with a drop of oil from a glass vial and Aisea stood up, now chief of the clan. Everybody queued up to shake his hand and get a photo standing next to Aisea.

And then the feasting began! There was so, so much food it was insane. The beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed in the morning had (predictably for Fiji at this time of year) given way to dark storm clouds in the afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to have a tin roof over my head. I sat with my very full plate of food chatting with members of Sandy’s mum’s clan and revelling in the honour I had been shown to be invited to a private event such as this.

Once the food had all been demolished, people started heading back to their homes for an afternoon siesta. When in Rome…

That evening I sat playing cards with the kids by the light of a kerosene lamp. I introduced them to the wonderful world of the card game ‘speed’ (which is the fastest way to wreck your nice clean Bicycle deck) as well as showing them a card trick or two. They in turn went through every animal in the zoo and tried to teach me what the Fijian word for it was. Around 9pm I was invited to come and drink kava in another house, which of course I accepted.

The kava session was great. It’s funny that in almost all human cultures, conversation is always best over a drink: whether it’s a coffee, a bottle of San Miguel or a bowl of brown root water. We were drinking out of a traditional wooden kava bowl, which I have to recommend over the usual plastic washing-up bowl. It’s like the difference between drinking Coca-Cola out of a glass bottle and drinking it out of a plastic bottle. After spinning some tales from the road and putting the world to rights it was almost morning. I returned to Tata Levu’s house, took my space on the floor and fell fast asleep. What a great day.

Day M181: How The South Pacific Was Won

26.03.12:

The Pacific, south of the equator line, is now complete. Yes, there were a handful of territories – Niue, Tokelau, French Polynesia, Pitcairn & Easter Island – that I skipped, but if the purpose of this adventure is to have great stories to tell the grandkids, I need to finish this quest so I can work on spawning future generations of argumentative scouse dingbats to tell the aforementioned great stories to in the first place. Happily, I did get to visit the French territories of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (both of them!) and the US territory of American Samoa, bringing my ‘territory tally’ up to 9.

Here’s a rough map I knocked together of the route I took, including ships and dates. Clicky for biggie.

How I Visited Every Country In The Pacific Without Flying

MASSIVE THANKS must go to the cargo kings of the Pacific Ocean – Swire, Neptune, PDL, PIL, Reef and the cruise queens – Carnival, Princess and P&O. Alex Pattison (Swire), Rowan Moss (PDL), Captain Hebden (Neptune) and David Jones (Carnival) in particular went that extra mile to help this raggedy stranger take a giant leap forwards in achieving his dream.

Finally, hats off to Captain Bernie Santos of the Papuan Chief, Captain Don McGill of the Southern Pearl, Captain Andrey Verkhovsky of the Southern Lily 2 and Captains Sireli Raloka and Bob Williams of the Scarlett Lucy. It was a real honour to sail with these guys.

All in all, a pretty successful five months! I only wish I had known (at the time) that the Scarlett Lucy came into Honiara on the way to Nauru. Had I know that, and had Neptune been happy to let me on board last October, I could have jumped off the Papuan Chief and jumped on the Lucy, cutting out the massive backtrack to Australia from New Zealand – saving myself at least a month’s worth of travel.

But then I wouldn’t have scored a free ride as a VIP on a cruise ship, so I’m really not complaining!!

As I keep saying, there’s no manual for this type of thing – it just goes to show that good information is priceless. Now, with Nauru out of the way, I must turn my attention north to Palau and Micronesia.


The Cap Serrat left in the wee small hours of the morning, and the only other ship that will get me to Taiwan (in time to make April’s one and only ship to Palau and Micronesia) leaves from Townsville, 1,300km north of here in just three days time, and I still haven’t got permission off the owner to board the vessel. This is cutting it tight and making a huge gamble – if I don’t get on the Mell Seringat on Thursday I’ll have lost another month.

After saying my goodbyes to Captain Bob, Rusi, Peni, Cookie, Douglas, Bese, Labe, Ricky, Meli, Patrick, Peter, Hendra, Daniel, Asi, Manasa, Martin and Chief Tarawa – I reluctantly disembarked the Scarlett Lucy, my home for the past 34 days. I set course for the Mission to Seafarers in order to take advantage of the courtesy bus that takes salty seadogs like meselfs to the nearest town, Wynnum. A train ride to Brisbane city’s south bank, a rather unfortunate looking set of nuclear bunkers that substitute for a cultural quarter. A good place to run to when the North Koreans attack, and also there’s free internet.

After trudging through my back-log of emails and correspondence, it became clear that I was no closer to being allowed on this ship than I was 24 hours ago when I was in the middle of the sea. Tomorrow I’d have to make the decision whether to head up to Townsville anyway, but today I could (kinda) relax. I met up with Crystal, a mate off the Pacific Pearl, and we settled in for an evening of pizza and beer before I crashed on the coach. The Pacific Ocean is magnificent, but dry land does have its bonuses.